This year is the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin. Calvin is a giant of Christian theology by any standards, and readers of this blog will be aware that I am not ashamed to be called a Calvinist, even though I do not follow him, but Jesus Christ. I admire Calvin because of his passion for God, and his love of the Bible.
This 500th anniversary is a good time to think about reading a biography of Calvin. Yet the fact is that there are literally dozens of books to choose from. Where to start? Having read practically every biography of Calvin available in English, I think I have some right to make a few suggestions. I have linked from most books to the publisher, if not, links lead to Amazon.co.uk. I have only listed books that are currently in print.
First are some good introductory books on Calvin - call them good places to start.
1. Theodore Beza, The Life of John Calvin (Trans. Darlington, Evangelical Press, 1997): This is the first biography of Calvin, written by his friend and successor as pastor of St. Pierre, Geneva. It is of course very much on Calvin’s side, but as the author knew and worked with Calvin, his witness is invaluable. It is a short book, and a good starting point for anyone interested in Calvin. This was the first Calvin biography that I read.
2. Robert Reymond: John Calvin: His Life and Influence (Fearn, Christian Focus, 2004). Based on lectures, this is a popular-level work by a Presbyterian theologian. Reymond is very readable, and his book is based on the best scholarship available. This is a short and accessible book for the general reader. Again, it's a good place to start, giving more information than Beza, and with the perspective that has come with the centuries since Calvin's death.
3. Emanuel Stickelberger: Calvin (Lutterworth Press, 2003). A translation of a popular work by a leading Swiss man of letters, Stickelberger’s book is based on good scholarship, as the notes indicate, but readability is the first concern of the author. Stickelberger writes very much in defence of Calvin. The book is now over fifty years old, but it is still a good read. Available from Amazon.
Next time: Medium-level works.